The Ashes: More woe for Australian sport?

Ahead of the Ashes series, Lee Wellings looks at the current struggles of a once unstoppable sporting nation.


    It's bad enough for Australian sport that the Wallabies were comprehensively beaten by the Lions in the final rugby union Test.

    That a doping scandal enveloped their sporting landscape and brought shame on their beloved rugby league stars.

    That the OIympics last year brought a hugely disappointing medal haul, introducing blame tossing as a sport and which they could excel.

    But none of these are The Ashes. The Ashes matters so much to supporters of Australia and England. If Australia are humiliated in this - how will a nation known for its sporting success be able to cope?

    The signs are not good for this 2013 team, regarded by many as the weakest for decades. Yes the 1989 team were called the 'worst to leave Australian shores' but that was just bad punditry - coach Darren Lehmann would kill to have players like Border, Boon and Steve Waugh in this squad.

    Lehmann is of course the replacement coach - South African Mickey Arthur having been sacked, a decision he took with commendable dignity. And that's something that has been in short supply for the Australian cricket team recently, from the debacle in India (four players sent home) to David Warner's late night entertainment - hitting an England player in the Walkabout bar in Birmingham. Bad times. Are they about to get worse?

    May I reiterate a point I made recently on twitter - not a single ball has been bowled yet. Not one. Yes it's a fair point to say England should win comfortably, but aren't the English celebrations a little premature? As I write this at Trent Bridge the first Test hasn't started. The scoreboard will say nought for nought. What if Australia actually get a good start?

    Experienced writer Wayne Smith of The Australian told me: "In the momentum and dynamics of this series if Australia get off to a good start it will shake things up far more than England getting off to a good start because I think England getting off to a good start is expected."

    There's genuine ability in this Australian team as vice-captain Brad Haddin points out: "We're comfortable - we know the talent we've got in our changing room and it's going to be exciting to see them unleashed on the world stage in the biggest series of all."

    The biggest problem Australia face may not be an implosion but the quality of the opposition. For years we watched the England team struggle, but they have now reached a quality that can only be matched and surpassed by South Africa. This may be the time for the likes of Anderson, Broad and Swann to reach new peaks. Captain Cook has already tormented Australia, aided and abetted by Trott, who is a nightmare for the opposition in Tests, never mind that Champions Trophy run rate.

    And England are mentally strong - they will have put that potentially demoralising Champions Trophy defeat against India in a box marked 'irrelevant'.

    Best of all is how the England team will avoid complacency and stay focused. They leave the talk to the likes of Ashes legend Ian Botham, who is delighting in the chance to taunt Australia after their years of success in the '90s and 2000s.

    The scourge of Australia in the 80s told me: "No I don’t think 5-0 is too much to ask at all, weather permitting they outgun Australia in every department. For many years in the commentary box I've had to listen to Channel 9 commentators or whoever gloating and wrapping it up – ‘We've done it in 3 days.’

    "Well the roles are reversed now . I'm enjoying it, and will enjoy it as long as I can."

    The Australian media around me are enjoying it no more than the millions of sports fans back home. And they can't offer much comfort. I ask Wayne if it's true the 'Socceroos' qualifying for the 2014 World Cup (England haven't yet) has made up for their bad run elsewhere.

    'It's not as important to the public as some will tell you' is his assessment. Meanwhile the fine achievements of Orica-GreenEDGE belong to commited cycling enthusiasts not the public as a whole. They could do with a Murray moment (their last Australian Open winner was Mark Woodforde in 1976).

    But again to remind those getting ahead of themselves - not a single delivery faced yet. From Wednesday at 10gmt let's see what happens.

    And if England do thrash Australia what possible chink of light is there Down Under?

    Well Australia can call it half-time. We are in the unusual position of ten Ashes Tests in seven months.

    But as I look across the beautiful Trent Bridge ground - the calm before the cricket frenzy - you suspect the Aussies will need to get on with it early or their Ashes hopes will be ground into the dust.



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